Nova Scotia

Charges laid in Valley methadone overdose death

RCMP have laid charges against a woman in the death of a 20-year-old Greenwood woman after she overdosed on methadone in June.

Katanna MacDonald, 20, died last June

RCMP have laid charges against a woman in the death of a 20-year-old Greenwood woman after she overdosed on methadone in June.

Kelsey Leanne Pynch, 21, of Nicholsville has been charged with criminal negligence causing death and two counts of trafficking in a controlled substance in relation to the death of Katanna MacDonald.

MacDonald died June 21 in the Annapolis Valley after an overdose of methadone stopped her heart. Her father told CBC News MacDonald's body was so badly damaged that a machine was needed to keep her alive so her family members could say their goodbyes.

Police continued their investigation into MacDonald's death and arrested a suspect Thursday near Aylesford, N.S. without incident, RCMP said in a release.

Kings District RCMP Insp. Mike Payne told CBC News that charges against drug suppliers is a relatively new practice.

Katanna MacDonald, 20, died after overdosing on methadone. (Facebook)

"There's been a lot of awareness created, particularly in the Valley area about the dangers of prescription drug abuse and we've found over the past year or so that members of the community are a lot more willing to get involved," said Payne.

"We're able to make headway in these sorts of investigations where in the past we really weren't getting very far."

He said police want to hold dealers accountable.

"I think traditionally this sort of stuff has been a bit of a cat and mouse game between police and the people involved in the drug trade but as we've seen in so many cases, those abusing drugs, particularly prescription drugs in combination with alcohol can have tragic consequences," said Payne.  

"I guess the message is, is that police are going to leave no stone unturned in getting to the source of the drugs and holding anybody accountable that may play a role in a death."

Pynch is scheduled to appear in Kentville Provincial Court on Nov. 26.

Relief for families

Amy Graves, whose brother died of a hydromorphone overdose in March 2011, said charging drug dealers is a big step.

In March, 22-year-old Kyle Fredericks was charged with trafficking and criminal negligence causing death in relation to the death of Joshua Graves.

"It feels great that another family is going to get justice and closure without having to file complaints and harass RCMP for a year," said Graves. 

Amy Graves lost her brother to a methadone overdose in 2011. (CBC)

"It's also good to know that Josh wasn't an exception, they weren't doing him a favour, per se, that this is going to be the way it goes now. If you sell prescription drugs or any other drug, and you cause someone's death, you should be held accountable.

"If there's no deterrent for drug dealers, what's going to stop them? They're making money, it's a lucrative business and if there's no risk involved then people will continue to do it." 

Methadone use controversial

MacDonald was taking methadone to treat her drug addiction.

Methadone is used to treat opiate addicts and works by blocking opioid receptors in the brain to take away cravings and prevent withdrawal symptoms. It is taken orally, usually mixed with juice.

In most cases, the methadone must be taken in front of a witness, but some patients are allowed to carry the methadone away from where it's distributed.

Since MacDonald's death, Valley MLA Leo Glavine has called for much tighter controls on methadone, which is dispensed from a hospital in Kentville and a clinic in Wolfville.

Regardless of the risks, doctors who prescribe methadone say it's almost a miracle cure for opiate addiction and allowing addicts to take a small supply home is a valuable incentive to stay clean.

Dr. Don Fay told CBC News in a June interview that methadone is an important tool in addiction treatment.

"It's a tremendous reward system too, if you have done your work properly," Fay said.

"You've stayed on the program, you've stayed off other drugs, adhered to the program, let's say Direction 180, and you've shown that you can do that well then you earn carries."

Currently, 1,400 people in Nova Scotia have a legal prescription to use it.

Of those, 1,200 are 'carries' users, that are allowed to take a supply of methadone home.